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  • Ednold

Sutherlin 9/10/21

This was week 2 of the new 2021 football season. The REAL 2021 football season, and this time we were headed south to watch a rivalry game in central Douglas County. The Sutherlin Bulldogs were hosting the neighboring Oakland Oakers in a non-league game that was their second of three home games to begin the season. Last week the Bulldogs hosted Phoenix and plundered the Pirates for a 46-6 non-league victory. So in their first two games they’ve played Phoenix and Oakland. Maybe next week their opponent will be Los Angeles or Seattle.

As has happened before, Mrs. Ednold had business to attend to and would be skipping this trip to stay at the office, so I recruited my son to ride along with me this time. At first Little Ednold was dubious that a trip to a high school football game with his dad would be as much fun as I said it would be. He was a little suspicious, but now I’m sure he’ll be clamoring to do it again. Little Ednold, I should mention, is twice my size. But I will always be Big Ednold.

On our way we stopped at a gas station in Curtin, just south of Cottage Grove. I was hoping it might be showering in Curtin, or that the attendant’s name would be Rod. Now I wish I had taken out my phone and made a Curtin call. But none of that happened and I feel like you all have been cheated out of some humor. But I did snap a picture of one of my favorite places right across the street from the gas station: The Stardust Motel. There is a wonderful incongruity between the Stardust name and the Stardust sign and the reality of the property itself. When I think Stardust I think classic Las Vegas, Wayne Newton, and sparkling lights. The Stardust in Curtin is none of that, but I’d stay there. Mrs. Ednold would rather sleep in the car, but I’d stay there.

Sutherlin is a small town of about 8,000 residents about a dozen miles north of Roseburg. In the mid-1800’s, Fendel Sutherlin owned and farmed several thousand acres in what was known as Camas Swale, due to all of the purplish camas flowers that thrived in the swampy land in the swale between two mountain ridges. Sutherlin had been an unsuccessful 49er, but on his way to and from the California gold fields he decided Camas Swale was the best place on the whole west coast to settle down. His farms and orchards were successful enough that eventually the town that sprang up nearby was named for him and eight years after his death in 1901 Sutherlin got its first post office and in 1911 it was incorporated with a population of over 500.

Over the years timber became the basis of the Sutherlin economy and by the late 1940’s it was known as “Timber Town”. But the 1980’s were unkind to the timber industry and these days timber plays a smaller role in the life of Sutherliners. For fifty years they held an annual Timber Days festival, but the last of those took place in 1997. In an attempt to rebrand the town, civic leaders have spent the last few decades trying to get the title “City of Flags” to stick. That’s right: City of Flags.

Interstate 5 goes through the western edge of Sutherlin and we could have exited there. But I’d never been through the town of Oakland and wanted to check out the hometown of the Bulldogs’ opponent, so we got off onto old Highway 99 a few miles north of Sutherlin. Oakland looks like an interesting place but this isn’t their story so you’ll have to wait to hear about it. Oakland and Sutherlin are only separated by two miles, and after traveling half that distance to the south we came to the village of Union Gap. I expected to see Gary Puckett nearby, since I’d never seen one without the other before, but there was no sign of him. Union Gap, by the way, is in the Oakland school district, so these folks who live just a mile from Sutherlin would be in the enemy camp. I assume Gary would be rooting against Sutherlin too.

A minute later we entered Sutherlin and turned on Central Ave., Sutherlin’s main street, and drove from one end of town to the other to see what there was to see. One thing I expected to see was lots of flags, but I really didn’t. There were some banners hanging from each telephone pole honoring local military vets, which was a nice touch, but you can’t really count those as flags. And we saw an actual flag store, Liberty Flags and Gifts, with a few flags flying outside. It’s kind of impressive for a town the size of Sutherlin to have a dedicated flag store, but I think if they’re really serious about wanting to be known as Flag City USA they will need to step it up a bit.

We had arrived early enough on this balmy, early season evening to stop for dinner before the game and we found the Sutherlin Outpost of Roseburg’s Backside Brewing right there in the middle of town on Central Avenue. Little Ednold was adventurous enough to try the Elk Burger, which he says was very good. While I went with the less adventurous caesar salad, I did have a pint of The Bitter Truth IPA. It was bitter, and that’s the truth. And excellent.

Here’s something you don’t see every day: Backside Brewing has one big-screen TV inside and the entire time we were there it was tuned to a cooking show. I attribute this to the fact that there were approximately a dozen people working there and they were all female. I have occasionally enjoyed watching a cooking show or two, but I can think of a few reasons not to have one turned on in a restaurant. What if the stuff you serve the customers compares unfavorably to what they see on the screen? The secret to TV in a restaurant is to show something that makes sense even when the sound is off - like sports! That’s why there are sports bars and there aren’t any cooking show bars. You can get the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat without hearing a thing. I suggest Backside Brewing hire a male employee; someone who understands these things.

One unsolved mystery of this trip is why we turned north off of Central Ave. onto Umatilla St. to reach the high school. Umatilla is in northeast Oregon. What is Umatilla St. doing in Sutherlin? Another mystery is why there’s a town in Florida named Umatilla after the town in Oregon. It’s true. There’s a Umatilla, Florida just north of Orlando and it was named after the one in Oregon. Those people have always been jealous that we’re on the best coast and they’re always trying to copy us. I expect they’ll start importing dirty brown sand to put on their beaches pretty soon. Hopefully by the time I write a story about Umatilla I’ll have all the particulars on that little tale.

We parked along 4th Ave., which runs between the school and the playing field, and followed the other early arrivers south into the stadium. $5 each got us in with a program. We got there early to watch the warm-ups, and it’s a good thing we did. The stands are about the size you’d expect at a 3A school. The covered aluminum stands were installed in 2006 and I’m sure they’re plenty big on most occasions. But hosting a team from two miles away made for a huge crowd, the majority of whom sat on a few smaller sections of bleachers on the west end of the field or just stood throughout the game. Strangely, there is no seating on the visitors side of the field. Or maybe, since the stands are on the visitors’ side of the field I should say there are not stands on the home side. It was weird, but with at least half of the fans rooting for the visiting team and having the home team on the far sideline it felt like Oakland were actually the home team. The field itself is in beautiful shape. I don't know if the artificial turf is brand new but it looks like it. The rubber asphalt track surrounding it isn't new, but it's in pretty good shape too.

The home (and visitor) stands on the north side

It was a nice night for a football game. It wasn’t hot, but it was comfortable enough that Little Ednold didn’t have to wear long pants and I watched the whole game in just my shirtsleeves. Well, actually I was wearing the whole shirt, attached to the sleeves. And I was wearing pants. And shoes. My point is that it was a comfortably warm night.

I wish I could offer some critique of the food offered at the snack bar, but there wasn't one. At least not one that was open. Which was too bad because it looked to be a nice, big concession area but it was closed, presumably as some kind of virus precaution. Which would be kind of funny since nobody seemed to care at all about getting sick. There was a sign at the entry saying that masks were required beyond that point, but Little Ednold and I were two of maybe a half dozen people in the whole place who paid any heed to that. Sutherlin has never won, or even played for, a state championship. But Douglas county consistently leads the state in per capita virus cases. If the Bulldogs ever want to win a championship this might be the year. A year from now everyone in the county may be dead.

Sutherlin competes in 3A Special District 2, while Oakland competes at the 2A level in Special District 3. So, even though it was a rivalry game involving neighboring schools, there didn’t seem to be any of the bad blood you might expect if the schools competed in the same league, or the same classification. The crowd was evenly split and the adult fans and students sat together in the one grandstand like one big happy family. It was honestly kind of weird.

Unlike last week’s game, the students were out in full force for this one. The appropriately-sized 5 girl Sutherlin cheer squad was nothing special, but the vocal response they got from the rest of the students was. And they had a Touchdown Train (a golf cart with a couple of over-powered air horns on it) that would drive up and down in front of the crowd whenever the Bulldogs scored. It was unique, if a little loud for my personal taste, and I'm glad the Bulldogs only had to score twice to win the game.

Oakland had lost their opening game to Coquille, and Sutherlin had beaten Phoenix in their opener. Add to that the fact that Sutherlin competes at a higher classification than Oakland and I was expecting the Bulldogs to dominate. But it was evident during pre-game warm- ups that the Oakers had a larger squad than the home team and their players were just as big, and the game turned out to be very evenly matched. It was a defensive struggle as both run-oriented teams found it hard to move the ball consistently. And when I say run-oriented I mean that I can remember two passes in the entire game, one of which was completed for a 2-point conversion. I don’t think either offensive line was good enough to provide the protection for either quarterback to throw, and I’m not sure either quarterback could throw even if they had the time.

It was tied 6-6 at halftime, with two failed extra point tries. The hometown Bulldogs scored in the third and tacked on the aforementioned two point conversion to make it 14-6, and that’s how it all ended. The Oakers had the ball first and goal at the 3-yard-line with a couple of minutes left but the Bulldogs stuffed them on four successive running plays to seal the win.

Until they start taking the whole Flag City thing more seriously there isn’t too much to see in the town of Sutherlin, but now that I’ve been there I won’t have to wonder what it’s like each time I drive by it on the freeway. It seems to be an agreeable, if unspectacular, little town. And I’m still torn between being pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the Sutherlin-Oakland rivalry and disappointment that there wasn’t a little more animosity between the two communities. As a Bulldog fan for the night I came ready to fight any Oaker who disparaged my team or my town, but that never happened. Good to know I still have that intimidating presence.

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Sep 13, 2021

Ednold, Did you know that you have relatives that live in Sutherlin? At least you did at one time. Enjoyed your story as I always do. RJS

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